In 1915 an interesting story appeared in several newspapers, concerning L/8863 Sergeant Cecil Robert Newman of the 2nd Battalion The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). Cecil was born in Twickenham but lived in Mitcham. He was a pre-war Regular soldier who had enlisted in The Queen’s at Guildford in 1906, aged 18, for a period of nine years with the colours and three with the reserve. His service record survives and notes his height at 5ft 4ins. He was promoted to sergeant in 1913, his service record stating that he was “A thoroughly honest, trustworthy , clean, hard working, respectable man. Very intelligent and willing. A very good clerk, with a particularly neat hand. Has a good knowledge of type writing. A strict teetotaller.”
Cecil served with the 2nd Battalion and had been posted to Gibraltar and South Africa, where the battalion was located on the outbreak of war. It was recalled and sent to Belgium, landing at Zeebrugge on 7 October. The battalion reached Ypres on 14 October and experienced its first taste of action on the 18th near Dadizeele, east of Ypres. By the 21st it had withdrawn to the Langemarck-Zonnebeke road where it came under a heavy German attack, suffering 18 men killed, 123 wounded, and 37 missing. One of those missing was Cecil Newman. A Surrey newspaper takes up the story:
Metal Disc’s Strange Adventures
“For England and Alice.” That is what Sergeant C.E. Newman, of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, fought and died for on the battlefield of France.
These were the last words that he scratched with his penknife on his metal identification disc while he lay wounded in a farm building near Zonnebeke.
This last message home was entrusted to another wounded comrade, Private R. Cotton, who lay wounded on a mattress in the same shed just before the gallant sergeant died.
The strange vicissitudes of this touching message which closed the brief life epic of Sergeant Newman and the remarkable manner in which it was given to the hero’s family this week were told to a ‘Lloyd’s News’ representative yesterday by Private Cotton, who is now in a London hospital.
“We were retiring from our positions last October,” he said, “near to Zonnebeke, when I was wounded in the leg. I managed to get to a farm shed, where I was taken prisoner by the Germans. There was another man along with me, and the next morning Sergeant Newman, also of our regiment, staggered up to the place badly wounded and lay alongside me.
Altogether we were there three days, but on the second day the sergeant was very ill and got so weak that he passed peacefully away. Our wounds had received no dressing except what we could give them ourselves, and all we had to eat were a few biscuits that we had in our pockets. The sergeant was evidently hit whilst we were firing, for he was wounded in the neck and in several places.
On the third day the position was retaken by the French, who liberated us, and as I had been entrusted with the belongings of Sergeant Newman, I took them with me to Boulogne hospital, where I remained until I came over to England. The pay-book and letter which was inside I handed over to an English officer, but the disc I retained to give to the sergeant’s family.
Five months passed by, and I was still ill, having been under several operations; and all this time I did not know that Sergeant Newman had been placed on the missing list, and inquiries made for him through all sorts of agencies.
I was thinking of giving up his disc to the War Officer when one day last week a lady called on me, as she had heard there were a number of comrades of the same regiment as her son in hospital.
So after all I was able to give her the details of how her brave son had met his death.
When I went to the locker by my bedside, and took the identification disc out we were surprised to notice a message scratched on it – ‘For England and for Alice,’ and some initials underneath, which were only noticed then for the first time.”
The disc, which is numbered 8863, has the message scratched on the reverse side, and the four initial under the wording to Mrs. Alice Newman, the sergeant’s wife, are: “G,” “M,” “A,” “I,” for Gwendolyn, Muriel, Alice and Ivy, the dead man’s four little girls. He was only married five years ago, and has had a very promising career on service abroad.
One extraordinary feature of the affair is that some months ago Mrs. Alice Newman dreamed that her husband was standing outside a farm building wounded, and when she saw Cotton and told him of this experience it was found that there were many points of resemblance between the dream and the reality.
Although his service record reports him missing on 21st October 1914, Cecil’s date of death is recorded as the 22nd which ties in with Private Cotton’s account. Cecil was not to know but one of his daughters, Gwendolyn, had died shortly after arriving back in England after contracting measles on the voyage back from South Africa.
His widow re-married almost exactly two years later in Sutton, to a Frederick Charles Stannard. It may just be a coincidence but interestingly a man of that name also served in the 2nd Battalion of The Queen’s (Private L/7953).
Cecil is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres but does not appear to be commemorated on any of the memorials you may expect to find his name on in England.